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Full text of "Ancient Classic Texts before 400 B.C."

380 BC 
MENO 
by Plato 
translated by Benjamin Jowett 
MENO 

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE MENO; SOCRATES; A SLAVE OF MENO; 
ANYTUS 

Meno . Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by 
teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, 
then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way? 

Socrates. Meno, there was a time when the Thessalians were 
famous among the other Hellenes only for their riches and their 
riding; but now, if I am not mistaken, they are equally famous for 
their wisdom, especially at Larisa, which is the native city of your 
friend Aristippus. And this is Gorgias ' doing; for when he came there, 
the flower of the Aleuadae, among them your admirer Aristippus, and 
the other chiefs of the Thessalians, fell in love with his wisdom. And 
he has taught you the habit of answering questions in a grand and bold 
style, which becomes those who know, and is the style in which he 
himself answers all comers; and any Hellene who likes may ask him 
anything. How different is our lot! my dear Meno. Here at Athens there 
is a dearth of the commodity, and all wisdom seems to have emigrated 
from us to you. I am certain that if you were to ask any Athenian 
whether virtue was natural or acquired, he would laugh in your face, 
and say: "Stranger, you have far too good an opinion of me, if you 
think that I can answer your question. For I literally do not know 
what virtue is, and much less whether it is acquired by teaching or 
not." And I myself, Meno, living as I do in this region of poverty, am 
as poor as the rest of the world; and I confess with shame that I know 
literally nothing about virtue; and when I do not know the "quid" of 
anything how can I know the "quale"? How, if I knew nothing at all 
of Meno, could I tell if he was fair, or the opposite of fair; rich 
and noble, or the reverse of rich and noble? Do you think that I 
could? 

Men. No, Indeed. But are you in earnest, Socrates, in saying that 
you do not know what virtue is? And am I to carry back this report 
of you to Thessaly? 

Soc. Not only that, my dear boy, but you may say further that I have 
never known of any one else who did, in my judgment. 

Men. Then you have never met Gorgias when he was at Athens? 

Soc. Yes, I have. 

Men. And did you not think that he knew? 

Soc. I have not a good memory, Meno, and therefore I cannot now tell 
what I thought of him at the time. And I dare say that he did know, 
and that you know what he said: please, therefore, to remind me of 
what he said; or, if you would rather, tell me your own view; for I 
suspect that you and he think much alike. 

Men. Very true. 

Soc. Then as he is not here, never mind him, and do you tell me: 
By the gods, Meno, be generous, and tell me what you say that virtue 
is; for I shall be truly delighted to find that I have been 
mistaken, and that you and Gorgias do really have this knowledge; 
although I have been just saying that I have never found anybody who 
had. 

Men. There will be no difficulty, Socrates, in answering your 
question. Let us take first the virtue of a man-he should know how 
to administer the state, and in the administration of it to benefit 
his friends and harm his enemies; and he must also be careful not to 
suffer harm himself. A woman's virtue, if you wish to know about that, 
may also be easily described: her duty is to order her house, and keep 
what is indoors, and obey her husband. Every age, every condition of 
life, young or old, male or female, bond or free, has a different 



virtue: there are virtues numberless, and no lack of definitions of 
them; for virtue is relative to the actions and ages of each of us 
in all that we do. And the same may be said of vice, Socrates. 

Soc. How fortunate I am, Meno ! When I ask you for one virtue, you 
present me with a swarm of them, which are in your keeping. Suppose 
that I carry on the figure of the swarm, and ask of you, What is the 
nature of the bee? and you answer that there are many kinds of bees, 
and I reply: But do bees differ as bees, because there are many and 
different kinds of them; or are they not rather to be distinguished by 
some other quality, as for example beauty, size, or shape? How would 
you answer me? 

Men. I should answer that bees do not differ from one another, as 
bees . 

Soc. And if I went on to say: That is what I desire to know, Meno; 
tell me what is the quality in which they do not differ, but are all 
alike; -would you be able to answer? 

Men. I should. 

Soc. And so of the virtues, however many and different they may 
be, they have all a common nature which makes them virtues; and on 
this he who would answer the question, "What is virtue?" would do well 
to have his eye fixed: Do you understand? 

Men. I am beginning to understand; but I do not as yet take hold 
of the question as I could wish. 

Soc. When you say, Meno, that there is one virtue of a man, 
another of a woman, another of a child, and so on, does this apply 
only to virtue, or would you say the same of health, and size, and 
strength? Or is the nature of health always the same, whether in man 
or woman? 

Men. I should say that health is the same, both in man and woman. 

Soc. And is not this true of size and strength? If a woman is 
strong, she will be strong by reason of the same form and of the 
same strength subsisting in her which there is in the man. I mean to 
say that strength, as strength, whether of man or woman, is the 
same. Is there any difference? 

Men. I think not. 

Soc. And will not virtue, as virtue, be the same, whether in a child 
or in a grown-up person, in a woman or in a man? 

Men. I cannot help feeling, Socrates, that this case is different 
from the others . 

Soc. But why? Were you not saying that the virtue of a man was to 
order a state, and the virtue of a woman was to order a house? 

Men. I did say so. 

Soc. And can either house or state or anything be well ordered 
without temperance and without justice? 

Men. Certainly not. 

Soc. Then they who order a state or a house temperately or justly 
order them with temperance and justice? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. Then both men and women, if they are to be good men and 
women, must have the same virtues of temperance and justice? 

Men. True. 

Soc. And can either a young man or an elder one be good, if they are 
intemperate and unjust? 

Men . They cannot . 

Soc. They must be temperate and just? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. Then all men are good in the same way, and by participation 
in the same virtues? 

Men. Such is the inference. 

Soc. And they surely would not have been good in the same way, 
unless their virtue had been the same? 

Men. They would not. 

Soc. Then now that the sameness of all virtue has been proven, try 
and remember what you and Gorgias say that virtue is. 



Men. Will you have one definition of them all? 

Soc. That is what I am seeking. 

Men. If you want to have one definition of them all, I know not what 
to say, but that virtue is the power of governing mankind. 

Soc. And does this definition of virtue include all virtue? Is 
virtue the same in a child and in a slave, Meno? Can the child 
govern his father, or the slave his master; and would he who 
governed be any longer a slave? 

Men. I think not, Socrates. 

Soc. No, indeed; there would be small reason in that. Yet once more, 
fair friend; according to you, virtue is "the power of governing"; but 
do you not add "justly and not unjustly"? 

Men. Yes, Socrates; I agree there; for justice is virtue. 

Soc. Would you say "virtue," Meno, or "a virtue"? 

Men. What do you mean? 

Soc. I mean as I might say about anything; that a round, for 
example, is "a figure" and not simply "figure," and I should adopt 
this mode of speaking, because there are other figures. 

Men. Quite right; and that is just what I am saying about 
virtue-that there are other virtues as well as justice. 

Soc. What are they? tell me the names of them, as I would tell you 
the names of the other figures if you asked me. 

Men. Courage and temperance and wisdom and magnanimity are 
virtues; and there are many others. 

Soc. Yes, Meno; and again we are in the same case: in searching 
after one virtue we have found many, though not in the same way as 
before; but we have been unable to find the common virtue which runs 
through them all. 

Men. Why, Socrates, even now I am not able to follow you in the 
attempt to get at one common notion of virtue as of other things. 

Soc. No wonder; but I will try to get nearer if I can, for you 
know that all things have a common notion. Suppose now that some one 
asked you the question which I asked before: Meno, he would say, 
what is figure? And if you answered "roundness," he would reply to 
you, in my way of speaking, by asking whether you would say that 
roundness is "figure" or "a figure"; and you would answer "a figure." 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. And for this reason-that there are other figures? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And if he proceeded to ask, What other figures are there? you 
would have told him. 

Men. I should. 

Soc. And if he similarly asked what colour is, and you answered 
whiteness, and the questioner rejoined, Would you say that whiteness 
is colour or a colour? you would reply, A colour, because there are 
other colours as well. 

Men. I should. 

Soc. And if he had said, Tell me what they are?-you would have 
told him of other colours which are colours just as much as whiteness. 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And suppose that he were to pursue the matter in my way, he 
would say: Ever and anon we are landed in particulars, but this is not 
what I want; tell me then, since you call them by a common name, and 
say that they are all figures, even when opposed to one another, 
what is that common nature which you designate as figure-which 
contains straight as well as round, and is no more one than the 
other-that would be your mode of speaking? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And in speaking thus, you do not mean to say that the round 
is round any more than straight, or the straight any more straight 
than round? 

Men. Certainly not. 

Soc. You only assert that the round figure is not more a figure than 
the straight, or the straight than the round? 



Men. Very true. 

Soc. To what then do we give the name of figure? Try and answer. 
Suppose that when a person asked you this question either about figure 
or colour, you were to reply, Man, I do not understand what you 
want, or know what you are saying; he would look rather astonished and 
say: Do you not understand that I am looking for the "simile in 
multis"? And then he might put the question in another form: Mono, 
he might say, what is that "simile in multis" which you call figure, 
and which includes not only round and straight figures, but all? Could 
you not answer that question, Meno? I wish that you would try; the 
attempt will be good practice with a view to the answer about virtue. 

Men. I would rather that you should answer, Socrates. 

Soc. Shall I indulge you? 

Men. By all means. 

Soc. And then you will tell me about virtue? 

Men. I will. 

Soc. Then I must do my best, for there is a prize to be won. 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. Well, I will try and explain to you what figure is. What do you 
say to this answer ?-Figure is the only thing which always follows 
colour. Will you be satisfied with it, as I am sure that I should 
be, if you would let me have a similar definition of virtue? 

Men. But, Socrates, it is such a simple answer. 

Soc. Why simple? 

Men. Because, according to you, figure is that which always 
follows colour. 

(Soc . Granted. ) 

Men. But if a person were to say that he does not know what colour 
is, any more than what figure is-what sort of answer would you have 
given him? 

Soc. I should have told him the truth. And if he were a 
philosopher of the eristic and antagonistic sort, I should say to him: 
You have my answer, and if I am wrong, your business is to take up the 
argument and refute me. But if we were friends, and were talking as 
you and I are now, I should reply in a milder strain and more in the 
dialectician's vein; that is to say, I should not only speak the 
truth, but I should make use of premisses which the person 
interrogated would be willing to admit. And this is the way in which I 
shall endeavour to approach you. You will acknowledge, will you not, 
that there is such a thing as an end, or termination, or 
extremity?-all which words use in the same sense, although I am 
aware that Prodicus might draw distinctions about them: but still you, 
I am sure, would speak of a thing as ended or terminated-that is all 
which I am saying-not anything very difficult. 

Men. Yes, I should; and I believe that I understand your meaning. 

Soc. And you would speak of a surface and also of a solid, as for 
example in geometry. 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. Well then, you are now in a condition to understand my 
definition of figure. I define figure to be that in which the solid 
ends; or, more concisely, the limit of solid. 

Men. And now, Socrates, what is colour? 

Soc. You are outrageous, Meno, in thus plaguing a poor old man to 
give you an answer, when you will not take the trouble of 
remembering what is Gorgias ' definition of virtue. 

Men. When you have told me what I ask, I will tell you, Socrates. 

Soc. A man who was blindfolded has only to hear you talking, and 
he would know that you are a fair creature and have still many lovers. 

Men. Why do you think so? 

Soc. Why, because you always speak in imperatives: like all beauties 
when they are in their prime, you are tyrannical; and also, as I 
suspect, you have found out that I have weakness for the fair, and 
therefore to humour you I must answer. 

Men. Please do. 



Soc. Would you like me to answer you after the manner of Gorgias, 
which is familiar to you? 

Men. I should like nothing better. 

Soc. Do not he and you and Empedocles say that there are certain 
effluences of existence? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. And passages into which and through which the effluences pass? 

Men. Exactly. 

Soc. And some of the effluences fit into the passages, and some of 
them are too small or too large? 

Men. True. 

Soc. And there is such a thing as sight? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And now, as Pindar says, "read my meaning" colour is an 
effluence of form, commensurate with sight, and palpable to sense. 

Men. That, Socrates, appears to me to be an admirable answer. 

Soc. Why, yes, because it happens to be one which you have been in 
the habit of hearing: and your wit will have discovered, I suspect, 
that you may explain in the same way the nature of sound and smell, 
and of many other similar phenomena. 

Men. Quite true. 

Soc. The answer, Meno, was in the orthodox solemn vein, and 
therefore was more acceptable to you than the other answer about 
figure . 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And yet, son of Alexidemus, I cannot help thinking that the 
other was the better; and I am sure that you would be of the same 
opinion, if you would only stay and be initiated, and were not 
compelled, as you said yesterday, to go away before the mysteries. 

Men. But I will stay, Socrates, if you will give me many such 
answers . 

Soc. Well then, for my own sake as well as for yours, I will do my 
very best; but I am afraid that I shall not be able to give you very 
many as good: and now, in your turn, you are to fulfil your promise, 
and tell me what virtue is in the universal; and do not make a 
singular into a plural, as the facetious say of those who break a 
thing, but deliver virtue to me whole and sound, and not broken into a 
number of pieces: I have given you the pattern. 

Men. Well then, Socrates, virtue, as I take it, is when he, who 
desires the honourable, is able to provide it for himself; so the poet 
says, and I say too- 

Virtue is the desire of things honourable and the power of 
attaining them. 

Soc. And does he who desires the honourable also desire the good? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. Then are there some who desire the evil and others who desire 
the good? Do not all men, my dear sir, desire good? 

Men. I think not. 

Soc. There are some who desire evil? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. Do you mean that they think the evils which they desire, to 
be good; or do they know that they are evil and yet desire them? 

Men. Both, I think. 

Soc. And do you really imagine, Meno, that a man knows evils to be 
evils and desires them notwithstanding? 

Men. Certainly I do. 

Soc. And desire is of possession? 

Men. Yes, of possession. 

Soc. And does he think that the evils will do good to him who 
possesses them, or does he know that they will do him harm? 

Men. There are some who think that the evils will do them good, 
and others who know that they will do them harm. 



Soc. And, in your opinion, do those who think that they will do them 
good know that they are evils? 

Men. Certainly not. 

Soc. Is it not obvious that those who are ignorant of their nature 
do not desire them; but they desire what they suppose to be goods 
although they are really evils; and if they are mistaken and suppose 
the evils to be good they really desire goods? 

Men. Yes, in that case. 

Soc. Well, and do those who, as you say, desire evils, and think 
that evils are hurtful to the possessor of them, know that they will 
be hurt by them? 

Men. They must know it. 

Soc. And must they not suppose that those who are hurt are miserable 
in proportion to the hurt which is inflicted upon them? 

Men. How can it be otherwise? 

Soc. But are not the miserable ill-fated? 

Men. Yes, indeed. 

Soc. And does any one desire to be miserable and ill-fated? 

Men. I should say not, Socrates. 

Soc. But if there is no one who desires to be miserable, there is no 
one, Meno, who desires evil; for what is misery but the desire and 
possession of evil? 

Men. That appears to be the truth, Socrates, and I admit that nobody 
desires evil . 

Soc. And yet, were you not saying just now that virtue is the desire 
and power of attaining good? 

Men. Yes, I did say so. 

Soc. But if this be affirmed, then the desire of good is common to 
all, and one man is no better than another in that respect? 

Men. True. 

Soc. And if one man is not better than another in desiring good, 
he must be better in the power of attaining it? 

Men. Exactly. 

Soc. Then, according to your definition, virtue would appear to be 
the power of attaining good? 

Men. I entirely approve, Socrates, of the manner in which you now 
view this matter. 

Soc. Then let us see whether what you say is true from another point 
of view; for very likely you may be right: -You affirm virtue to be the 
power of attaining goods? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And the goods which mean are such as health and wealth and 
the possession of gold and silver, and having office and honour in the 
state-those are what you would call goods? 

Men. Yes, I should include all those. 

Soc. Then, according to Meno, who is the hereditary friend of the 
great king, virtue is the power of getting silver and gold; and 
would you add that they must be gained piously, justly, or do you deem 
this to be of no consequence? And is any mode of acquisition, even 
if unjust and dishonest, equally to be deemed virtue? 

Men. Not virtue, Socrates, but vice. 

Soc. Then justice or temperance or holiness, or some other part of 
virtue, as would appear, must accompany the acquisition, and without 
them the mere acquisition of good will not be virtue. 

Men. Why, how can there be virtue without these? 

Soc. And the non-acquisition of gold and silver in a dishonest 
manner for oneself or another, or in other words the want of them, may 
be equally virtue? 

Men. True. 

Soc. Then the acquisition of such goods is no more virtue than the 
non-acquisition and want of them, but whatever is accompanied by 
justice or honesty is virtue, and whatever is devoid of justice is 
vice . 

Men. It cannot be otherwise, in my judgment. 



Soc. And were we not saying just now that justice, temperance, and 
the like, were each of them a part of virtue? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And so, Meno, this is the way in which you mock me. 

Men. Why do you say that, Socrates? 

Soc. Why, because I asked you to deliver virtue into my hands 
whole and unbroken, and I gave you a pattern according to which you 
were to frame your answer; and you have forgotten already, and tell me 
that virtue is the power of attaining good justly, or with justice; 
and justice you acknowledge to be a part of virtue. 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. Then it follows from your own admissions, that virtue is 
doing what you do with a part of virtue; for justice and the like 
are said by you to be parts of virtue. 

Men. What of that? 

Soc. What of that! Why, did not I ask you to tell me the nature of 
virtue as a whole? And you are very far from telling me this; but 
declare every action to be virtue which is done with a part of virtue; 
as though you had told me and I must already know the whole of virtue, 
and this too when frittered away into little pieces. And, therefore, 
my dear I fear that I must begin again and repeat the same question: 
What is virtue? for otherwise, I can only say, that every action 
done with a part of virtue is virtue; what else is the meaning of 
saying that every action done with justice is virtue? Ought I not to 
ask the question over again; for can any one who does not know 
virtue know a part of virtue? 

Men. No; I do not say that he can. 

Soc. Do you remember how, in the example of figure, we rejected any 
answer given in terms which were as yet unexplained or unadmitted? 
Men. Yes, Socrates; and we were quite right in doing so. 
Soc. But then, my friend, do not suppose that we can explain to any 
one the nature of virtue as a whole through some unexplained portion 
of virtue, or anything at all in that fashion; we should only have 
to ask over again the old question, What is virtue? Am I not right? 
Men. I believe that you are. 

Soc. Then begin again, and answer me, What, according to you and 
your friend Gorgias, is the definition of virtue? 

Men. Socrates, I used to be told, before I knew you, that you 
were always doubting yourself and making others doubt; and now you are 
casting your spells over me, and I am simply getting bewitched and 
enchanted, and am at my wits' end. And if I may venture to make a jest 
upon you, you seem to me both in your appearance and in your power 
over others to be very like the flat torpedo fish, who torpifies those 
who come near him and touch him, as you have now torpified me, I 
think. For my soul and my tongue are really torpid, and I do not 
know how to answer you; and though I have been delivered of an 
infinite variety of speeches about virtue before now, and to many 
persons-and very good ones they were, as I thought-at this moment I 
cannot even say what virtue is. And I think that, you are very wise in 
not voyaging and going away from home, for if you did in other 
places as do in Athens, you would be cast into prison as a magician. 

Soc. You are a rogue, Meno, and had all but caught me. 

Men. What do you mean, Socrates? 

Soc. I can tell why you made a simile about me. 

Men. Why? 

Soc. In order that I might make another simile about you. For I know 
that all pretty young gentlemen like to have pretty similes made about 
them-as well they may-but I shall not return the compliment. As to 
my being a torpedo, if the torpedo is torpid as well as the cause of 
torpidity in others, then indeed I am a torpedo, but not otherwise; 
for I perplex others, not because I am clear, but because I am utterly 
perplexed myself. And now I know not what virtue is, and you seem to 
be in the same case, although you did once perhaps know before you 
touched me. However, I have no objection to join with you in the 



enquiry . 

Men. And how will you enquire, Socrates, into that which you do 
not know? What will you put forth as the subject of enquiry? And if 
you find what you want, how will you ever know that this is the 
thing which you did not know? 

Soc. I know, Meno, what you mean; but just see what a tiresome 
dispute you are introducing. You argue that man cannot enquire 
either about that which he knows, or about that which he does not 
know; for if he knows, he has no need to enquire; and if not, he 
cannot; for he does not know the, very subject about which he is to 
enquire . 

Men. Well, Socrates, and is not the argument sound? 

Soc. I think not. 

Men. Why not? 

Soc. I will tell you why: I have heard from certain wise men and 
women who spoke of things divine that- 

Men . What did they say? 

Soc. They spoke of a glorious truth, as I conceive. 

Men. What was it? and who were they? 

Soc. Some of them were priests and priestesses, who had studied 
how they might be able to give a reason of their profession: there, 
have been poets also, who spoke of these things by inspiration, like 
Pindar, and many others who were inspired. And they say-mark, now, and 
see whether their words are true-they say that the soul of man is 
immortal, and at one time has an end, which is termed dying, and at 
another time is born again, but is never destroyed. And the moral 
is, that a man ought to live always in perfect holiness. "For in the 
ninth year Persephone sends the souls of those from whom she has 
received the penalty of ancient crime back again from beneath into the 
light of the sun above, and these are they who become noble kings 
and mighty men and great in wisdom and are called saintly heroes in 
after ages." The soul, then, as being immortal, and having been born 
again many times, rand having seen all things that exist, whether in 
this world or in the world below, has knowledge of them all; and it is 
no wonder that she should be able to call to remembrance all that 
she ever knew about virtue, and about everything; for as all nature is 
akin, and the soul has learned all things; there is no difficulty in 
her eliciting or as men say learning, out of a single recollection 
-all the rest, if a man is strenuous and does not faint; for all 
enquiry and all learning is but recollection. And therefore we ought 
not to listen to this sophistical argument about the impossibility 
of enquiry: for it will make us idle; and is sweet only to the 
sluggard; but the other saying will make us active and inquisitive. In 
that confiding, I will gladly enquire with you into the nature of 
virtue . 

Men. Yes, Socrates; but what do you mean by saying that we do not 
learn, and that what we call learning is only a process of 
recollection? Can you teach me how this is? 

Soc. I told you, Meno, just now that you were a rogue, and now you 
ask whether I can teach you, when I am saying that there is no 
teaching, but only recollection; and thus you imagine that you will 
involve me in a contradiction. 

Men. Indeed, Socrates, I protest that I had no such intention. I 
only asked the question from habit; but if you can prove to me that 
what you say is true, I wish that you would. 

Soc. It will be no easy matter, but I will try to please you to 
the utmost of my power. Suppose that you call one of your numerous 
attendants, that I may demonstrate on him. 

Men. Certainly. Come hither, boy. 

Soc. He is Greek, and speaks Greek, does he not? 

Men. Yes, indeed; he was born in the house. 

Soc. Attend now to the questions which I ask him, and observe 
whether he learns of me or only remembers. 

Men. I will. 



Soc. Tell me, boy, do you know that a figure like this is a square? 

Boy. I do. 

Soc. And you know that a square figure has these four lines equal? 

Boy. Certainly. 

Soc. And these lines which I have drawn through the middle of the 
square are also equal? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. A square may be of any size? 

Boy. Certainly. 

Soc. And if one side of the figure be of two feet, and the other 
side be of two feet, how much will the whole be? Let me explain: if in 
one direction the space was of two feet, and in other direction of one 
foot, the whole would be of two feet taken once? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. But since this side is also of two feet, there are twice two 
feet? 

Boy. There are. 

Soc. Then the square is of twice two feet? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. And how many are twice two feet? count and tell me. 

Boy. Four, Socrates. 

Soc. And might there not be another square twice as large as this, 
and having like this the lines equal? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. And of how many feet will that be? 

Boy. Of eight feet. 

Soc. And now try and tell me the length of the line which forms 
the side of that double square: this is two feet-what will that be? 

Boy. Clearly, Socrates, it will be double. 

Soc. Do you observe, Meno, that I am not teaching the boy 
anything, but only asking him questions; and now he fancies that he 
knows how long a line is necessary in order to produce a figure of 
eight square feet; does he not? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And does he really know? 

Men. Certainly not. 

Soc. He only guesses that because the square is double, the line 
is double. 

Men. True. 

Soc. Observe him while he recalls the steps in regular order. (To 
the Boy.) Tell me, boy, do you assert that a double space comes from a 
double line? Remember that I am not speaking of an oblong, but of a 
figure equal every way, and twice the size of this-that is to say of 
eight feet; and I want to know whether you still say that a double 
square comes from double line? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. But does not this line become doubled if we add another such 
line here? 

Boy. Certainly. 

Soc. And four such lines will make a space containing eight feet? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. Let us describe such a figure: Would you not say that this is 
the figure of eight feet? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. And are there not these four divisions in the figure, each of 
which is equal to the figure of four feet? 

Boy. True. 

Soc. And is not that four times four? 

Boy. Certainly. 

Soc. And four times is not double? 

Boy. No, indeed. 

Soc. But how much? 

Boy. Four times as much. 

Soc. Therefore the double line, boy, has given a space, not twice, 



but four times as much. 

Boy. True. 

Soc. Four times four are sixteen-are they not? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. What line would give you a space of right feet, as this gives 
one of sixteen feet; -do you see? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. And the space of four feet is made from this half line? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. Good; and is not a space of eight feet twice the size of 
this, and half the size of the other? 

Boy. Certainly. 

Soc. Such a space, then, will be made out of a line greater than 
this one, and less than that one? 

Boy. Yes; I think so. 

Soc. Very good; I like to hear you say what you think. And now 
tell me, is not this a line of two feet and that of four? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. Then the line which forms the side of eight feet ought to be 
more than this line of two feet, and less than the other of four feet? 

Boy. It ought. 

Soc. Try and see if you can tell me how much it will be. 

Boy. Three feet. 

Soc. Then if we add a half to this line of two, that will be the 
line of three. Here are two and there is one; and on the other side, 
here are two also and there is one: and that makes the figure of which 
you speak? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. But if there are three feet this way and three feet that way, 
the whole space will be three times three feet? 

Boy. That is evident. 

Soc. And how much are three times three feet? 

Boy. Nine. 

Soc. And how much is the double of four? 

Boy. Eight. 

Soc. Then the figure of eight is not made out of a of three? 

Boy. No. 

Soc. But from what line?-tell me exactly; and if you would rather 
not reckon, try and show me the line. 

Boy. Indeed, Socrates, I do not know. 

Soc. Do you see, Meno, what advances he has made in his power of 
recollection? He did not know at first, and he does not know now, what 
is the side of a figure of eight feet: but then he thought that he 
knew, and answered confidently as if he knew, and had no difficulty; 
now he has a difficulty, and neither knows nor fancies that he knows. 

Men. True. 

Soc. Is he not better off in knowing his ignorance? 

Men. I think that he is. 

Soc. If we have made him doubt, and given him the "torpedo's shock," 
have we done him any harm? 

Men. I think not. 

Soc. We have certainly, as would seem, assisted him in some degree 
to the discovery of the truth; and now he will wish to remedy his 
ignorance, but then he would have been ready to tell all the world 
again and again that the double space should have a double side. 

Men. True. 

Soc. But do you suppose that he would ever have enquired into or 
learned what he fancied that he knew, though he was really ignorant of 
it, until he had fallen into perplexity under the idea that he did not 
know, and had desired to know? 

Men. I think not, Socrates. 

Soc. Then he was the better for the torpedo's touch? 

Men. I think so. 

Soc. Mark now the farther development. I shall only ask him, and not 



teach him, and he shall share the enquiry with me: and do you watch 
and see if you find me telling or explaining anything to him, 
instead of eliciting his opinion. Tell me, boy, is not this a square 
of four feet which I have drawn? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. And now I add another square equal to the former one? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. And a third, which is equal to either of them? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. Suppose that we fill up the vacant corner? 

Boy. Very good. 

Soc. Here, then, there are four equal spaces? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. And how many times larger is this space than this other? 

Boy. Four times. 

Soc. But it ought to have been twice only, as you will remember. 

Boy. True. 

Soc. And does not this line, reaching from corner to corner, 
bisect each of these spaces? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. And are there not here four equal lines which contain this 
space? 

Boy. There are. 

Soc. Look and see how much this space is. 

Boy. I do not understand. 

Soc. Has not each interior line cut off half of the four spaces? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. And how many spaces are there in this section? 

Boy. Four. 

Soc. And how many in this? 

Boy. Two. 

Soc. And four is how many times two? 

Boy. Twice. 

Soc. And this space is of how many feet? 

Boy. Of eight feet. 

Soc. And from what line do you get this figure? 

Boy . From this . 

Soc. That is, from the line which extends from corner to corner of 
the figure of four feet? 

Boy. Yes. 

Soc. And that is the line which the learned call the diagonal. And 
if this is the proper name, then you, Meno ' s slave, are prepared to 
affirm that the double space is the square of the diagonal? 

Boy. Certainly, Socrates. 

Soc. What do you say of him, Meno? Were not all these answers 
given out of his own head? 

Men. Yes, they were all his own. 

Soc. And yet, as we were just now saying, he did not know? 

Men. True. 

Soc. But still he had in him those notions of his-had he not? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. Then he who does not know may still have true notions of that 
which he does not know? 

Men. He has. 

Soc. And at present these notions have just been stirred up in 
him, as in a dream; but if he were frequently asked the same 
questions, in different forms, he would know as well as any one at 
last? 

Men. I dare say. 

Soc. Without any one teaching him he will recover his knowledge 
for himself, if he is only asked questions? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And this spontaneous recovery of knowledge in him is 
recollection? 



Men. True. 

Soc. And this knowledge which he now has must he not either have 
acquired or always possessed? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. But if he always possessed this knowledge he would always 
have known; or if he has acquired the knowledge he could not have 
acquired it in this life, unless he has been taught geometry; for he 
may be made to do the same with all geometry and every other branch of 
knowledge. Now, has any one ever taught him all this? You must know 
about him, if, as you say, he was born and bred in your house. 

Men. And I am certain that no one ever did teach him. 

Soc. And yet he has the knowledge? 

Men. The fact, Socrates, is undeniable. 

Soc. But if he did not acquire the knowledge in this life, then he 
must have had and learned it at some other time? 

Men. Clearly he must. 

Soc. Which must have been the time when he was not a man? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And if there have been always true thoughts in him, both at the 
time when he was and was not a man, which only need to be awakened 
into knowledge by putting questions to him, his soul must have 
always possessed this knowledge, for he always either was or was not a 
man? 

Men. Obviously. 

Soc. And if the truth of all things always existed in the soul, then 
the soul is immortal. Wherefore be of good cheer, and try to recollect 
what you do not know, or rather what you do not remember. 

Men. I feel, somehow, that I like what you are saying. 

Soc. And I, Meno, like what I am saying. Some things I have said 
of which I am not altogether confident. But that we shall be better 
and braver and less helpless if we think that we ought to enquire, 
than we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there 
was no knowing and no use in seeking to know what we do not know; -that 
is a theme upon which I am ready to fight, in word and deed, to the 
utmost of my power. 

Men. There again, Socrates, your words seem to me excellent. 

Soc. Then, as we are agreed that a man should enquire about that 
which he does not know, shall you and I make an effort to enquire 
together into the nature of virtue? 

Men. By all means, Socrates. And yet I would much rather return to 
my original question, Whether in seeking to acquire virtue we should 
regard it as a thing to be taught, or as a gift of nature, or as 
coming to men in some other way? 

Soc. Had I the command of you as well as of myself, Meno, I would 
not have enquired whether virtue is given by instruction or not, until 
we had first ascertained "what it is." But as you think only of 
controlling me who am your slave, and never of controlling 
yourself , -such being your notion of freedom, I must yield to you, 
for you are irresistible. And therefore I have now to enquire into the 
qualities of a thing of which I do not as yet know the nature. At 
any rate, will you condescend a little, and allow the question 
"Whether virtue is given by instruction, or in any other way, " to be 
argued upon hypothesis? As the geometrician, when he is asked 
whether a certain triangle is capable being inscribed in a certain 
circle, will reply: "I cannot tell you as yet; but I will offer a 
hypothesis which may assist us in forming a conclusion: If the 
figure be such that when you have produced a given side of it, the 
given area of the triangle falls short by an area corresponding to the 
part produced, then one consequence follows, and if this is impossible 
then some other; and therefore I wish to assume a hypothesis before 
I tell you whether this triangle is capable of being inscribed in 
the circle" : -that is a geometrical hypothesis. And we too, as we 
know not the nature and -qualities of virtue, must ask, whether virtue 
is or not taught, under a hypothesis: as thus, if virtue is of such 



a class of mental goods, will it be taught or not? Let the first 
hypothesis be-that virtue is or is not knowledge, -in that case will it 
be taught or not? or, as we were just now saying, remembered"? For 
there is no use in disputing about the name. But is virtue taught or 
not? or rather, does not everyone see that knowledge alone is taught? 

Men . I agree . 

Soc. Then if virtue is knowledge, virtue will be taught? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. Then now we have made a quick end of this question: if virtue 
is of such a nature, it will be taught; and if not, not? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. The next question is, whether virtue is knowledge or of another 
species? 

Men. Yes, that appears to be the -question which comes next in 
order . 

Soc. Do we not say that virtue is a good?-This is a hypothesis which 
is not set aside. 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. Now, if there be any sort-of good which is distinct from 
knowledge, virtue may be that good; but if knowledge embraces all 
good, then we shall be right in think in that virtue is knowledge? 

Men. True. 

Soc. And virtue makes us good? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And if we are good, then we are profitable; for all good things 
are profitable? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. Then virtue is profitable? 

Men. That is the only inference. 

Soc. Then now let us see what are the things which severally 
profit us. Health and strength, and beauty and wealth-these, and the 
like of these, we call profitable? 

Men. True. 

Soc. And yet these things may also sometimes do us harm: would you 
not think so? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And what is the guiding principle which makes them profitable 
or the reverse? Are they not profitable when they are rightly used, 
and hurtful when they are not rightly used? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. Next, let us consider the goods of the soul: they are 
temperance, justice, courage, quickness of apprehension, memory, 
magnanimity, and the like? 

Men. Surely. 

Soc. And such of these as are not knowledge, but of another sort, 
are sometimes profitable and sometimes hurtful; as, for example, 
courage wanting prudence, which is only a sort of confidence? When a 
man has no sense he is harmed by courage, but when he has sense he 
is profited? 

Men. True. 

Soc. And the same may be said of temperance and quickness of 
apprehension; whatever things are learned or done with sense are 
profitable, but when done without sense they are hurtful? 

Men. Very true. 

Soc. And in general, all that the attempts or endures, when under 
the guidance of wisdom, ends in happiness; but when she is under the 
guidance of folly, in the opposite? 

Men. That appears to be true. 

Soc. If then virtue is a quality of the soul, and is admitted to 
be profitable, it must be wisdom or prudence, since none of the things 
of the soul are either profitable or hurtful in themselves, but they 
are all made profitable or hurtful by the addition of wisdom or of 
folly; and therefore and therefore if virtue is profitable, virtue 
must be a sort of wisdom or prudence? 



Men. I quite agree. 

Soc. And the other goods, such as wealth and the like, of which we 
were just now saying that they are sometimes good and sometimes 
evil, do not they also become profitable or hurtful, accordingly as 
the soul guides and uses them rightly or wrongly; just as the things 
of the soul herself are benefited when under the guidance of wisdom 
and harmed by folly? 

Men. True. 

Soc. And the wise soul guides them rightly, and the foolish soul 
wrongly . 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And is not this universally true of human nature? All other 
things hang upon the soul, and the things of the soul herself hang 
upon wisdom, if they are to be good; and so wisdom is inferred to be 
that which profits-and virtue, as we say, is profitable? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. And thus we arrive at the conclusion that virtue is either 
wholly or partly wisdom? 

Men. I think that what you are saying, Socrates, is very true. 

Soc. But if this is true, then the good are not by nature good? 

Men. I think not. 

Soc. If they had been, there would assuredly have been discerners of 
characters among us who would have known our future great men; and 
on their showing we should have adopted them, and when we had got 
them, we should have kept them in the citadel out of the way of 
harm, and set a stamp upon them far rather than upon a piece of 
gold, in order that no one might tamper with them; and when they 
grew up they would have been useful to the state? 

Men. Yes, Socrates, that would have been the right way. 

Soc. But if the good are not by nature good, are they made good by 
instruction? 

Men. There appears to be no other alternative, Socrates. On the 
supposition that virtue is knowledge, there can be no doubt that 
virtue is taught. 

Soc. Yes, indeed; but what if the supposition is erroneous? 

Men. I certainly thought just now that we were right. 

Soc. Yes, Meno; but a principle which has any soundness should stand 
firm not only just now, but always. 

Men. Well; and why are you so slow of heart to believe that 
knowledge is virtue? 

Soc. I will try and tell you why, Meno. I do not retract the 
assertion that if virtue is knowledge it may be taught; but I fear 
that I have some reason in doubting whether virtue is knowledge: for 
consider now. and say whether virtue, and not only virtue but anything 
that is taught, must not have teachers and disciples? 

Men. Surely. 

Soc. And conversely, may not the art of which neither teachers nor 
disciples exist be assumed to be incapable of being taught? 

Men. True; but do you think that there are no teachers of virtue? 

Soc. I have certainly often enquired whether there were any, and 
taken great pains to find them, and have never succeeded; and many 
have assisted me in the search, and they were the persons whom I 
thought the most likely to know. Here at the moment when he is 
wanted we fortunately have sitting by us Anytus, the very person of 
whom we should make enquiry; to him then let us repair. In the first 
Place, he is the son of a wealthy and wise father, Anthemion, who 
acquired his wealth, not by accident or gift, like Ismenias the Theban 
(who has recently made himself as rich as Polycrates) , but by his 
own skill and industry, and who is a well-conditioned, modest man, not 
insolent, or over-bearing, or annoying; moreover, this son of his 
has received a good education, as the Athenian people certainly appear 
to think, for they choose him to fill the highest offices. And these 
are the sort of men from whom you are likely to learn whether there 
are any teachers of virtue, and who they are. Please, Anytus, to 



help me and your friend Meno in answering our question, Who are the 
teachers? Consider the matter thus: If we wanted Meno to be a good 
physician, to whom should we send him? Should we not send him to the 
physicians? 

Any. Certainly. 

Soc. Or if we wanted him to be a good cobbler, should we not send 
him to the cobblers? 

Any . Yes . 

Soc. And so forth? 

Any . Yes . 

Soc. Let me trouble you with one more question. When we say that 
we should be right in sending him to the physicians if we wanted him 
to be a physician, do we mean that we should be right in sending him 
to those who profess the art, rather than to those who do not, and 
to those who demand payment for teaching the art, and profess to teach 
it to any one who will come and learn? And if these were our 
reasons, should we not be right in sending him? 

Any . Yes . 

Soc. And might not the same be said of flute-playing, and of the 
other arts? Would a man who wanted to make another a flute-player 
refuse to send him to those who profess to teach the art for money, 
and be plaguing other persons to give him instruction, who are not 
professed teachers and who never had a single disciple in that 
branch of knowledge which he wishes him to acquire-would not such 
conduct be the height of folly? 

Any. Yes, by Zeus, and of ignorance too. 

Soc. Very good. And now you are in a position to advise with me 
about my friend Meno. He has been telling me, Anytus, that he 
desires to attain that kind of wisdom and-virtue by which men order 
the state or the house, and honour their parents, and know when to 
receive and when to send away citizens and strangers, as a good man 
should. Now, to whom should he go in order that he may learn this 
virtue? Does not the previous argument imply clearly that we should 
send him to those who profess and avouch that they are the common 
teachers of all Hellas, and are ready to impart instruction to any one 
who likes, at a fixed price? 

Any. Whom do you mean, Socrates? 

Soc. You surely know, do you not, Anytus, that these are the 
people whom mankind call Sophists? 

Any. By Heracles, Socrates, forbear! I only hope that no friend or 
kinsman or acquaintance of mine, whether citizen or stranger, will 
ever be so mad as to allow himself to be corrupted by them; for they 
are a manifest pest and corrupting influences to those who have to 
do with them. 

Soc. What, Anytus? Of all the people who profess that they know 
how to do men good, do you mean to say that these are the only ones 
who not only do them no good, but positively corrupt those who are 
entrusted to them, and in return for this disservice have the face 
to demand money? Indeed, I cannot believe you; for I know of a 
single man, Protagoras, who made more out of his craft than the 
illustrious Pheidias, who created such noble works, or any ten other 
statuaries. How could that A mender of old shoes, or patcher up of 
clothes, who made the shoes or clothes worse than he received them, 
could not have remained thirty days undetected, and would very soon 
have starved; whereas during more than forty years, Protagoras was 
corrupting all Hellas, and sending his disciples from him worse than 
he received them, and he was never found out. For, if I am not 
mistaken, -he was about seventy years old at his death, forty of 
which were spent in the practice of his profession; and during all 
that time he had a good reputation, which to this day he retains: 
and not only Protagoras, but many others are well spoken of; some 
who lived before him, and others who are still living. Now, when you 
say that they deceived and corrupted the youth, are they to be 
supposed to have corrupted them consciously or unconsciously? Can 



those who were deemed by many to be the wisest men of Hellas have been 
out of their minds? 

Any. Out of their minds! No, Socrates; the young men who gave 
their money to them, were out of their minds, and their relations 
and guardians who entrusted their youth to the care of these men 
were still more out of their minds, and most of all, the cities who 
allowed them to come in, and did not drive them out, citizen and 
stranger alike. 

Soc. Has any of the Sophists wronged you, Anytus? What makes you 
so angry with them? 

Any. No, indeed, neither I nor any of my belongings has ever had, 
nor would I suffer them to have, anything to do with them. 

Soc. Then you are entirely unacquainted with them? 

Any. And I have no wish to be acquainted. 

Soc. Then, my dear friend, how can you know whether a thing is 
good or bad of which you are wholly ignorant? 

Any. Quite well; I am sure that I know what manner of men these are, 
whether I am acquainted with them or not. 

Soc. You must be a diviner, Anytus, for I really cannot make out, 
judging from your own words, how, if you are not acquainted with them, 
you know about them. But I am not enquiring of you who are the 
teachers who will corrupt Meno (let them be, if you please, the 
Sophists) ; I only ask you to tell him who there is in this great 
city who will teach him how to become eminent in the virtues which I 
was just, now describing. He is the friend of your family, and you 
will oblige him. 

Any. Why do you not tell him yourself? 

Soc. I have told him whom I supposed to be the teachers of these 
things; but I learn from you that I am utterly at fault, and I dare 
say that you are right. And now I wish that you, on your part, would 
tell me to whom among the Athenians he should go. Whom would you name? 

Any. Why single out individuals? Any Athenian gentleman, taken at 
random, if he will mind him, will do far more, good to him than the 
Sophists . 

Soc. And did those gentlemen grow of themselves; and without 
having been taught by any one, were they nevertheless able to teach 
others that which they had never learned themselves? 

Any. I imagine that they learned of the previous generation of 
gentlemen. Have there not been many good men in this city? 

Soc. Yes, certainly, Anytus; and many good statesmen also there 
always have been and there are still, in the city of Athens. But the 
question is whether they were also good teachers of their own 
virtue; -not whether there are, or have been, good men in this part 
of the world, but whether virtue can be taught, is the question 
which we have been discussing. Now, do we mean to say that the good 
men our own and of other times knew how to impart to others that 
virtue which they had themselves; or is virtue a thing incapable of 
being communicated or imparted by one man to another? That is the 
question which I and Meno have been arguing. Look at the matter in 
your own way: Would you not admit that Themistocles was a good man? 

Any. Certainly; no man better. 

Soc. And must not he then have been a good teacher, if any man 
ever was a good teacher, of his own virtue? 

Any. Yes certainly, -if he wanted to be so. 

Soc. But would he not have wanted? He would, at any rate, have 
desired to make his own son a good man and a gentleman; he could not 
have been jealous of him, or have intentionally abstained from 
imparting to him his own virtue. Did you never hear that he made his 
son Cleophantus a famous horseman; and had him taught to stand upright 
on horseback and hurl a javelin, and to do many other marvellous 
things; and in anything which could be learned from a master he was 
well trained? Have you not heard from our elders of him? 

Any. I have. 

Soc. Then no one could say that his son showed any want of capacity? 



Any. Very likely not. 

Soc. But did any one, old or young, ever say in your hearing that 
Cleophantus, son of Themistocles, was a wise or good man, as his 
father was? 

Any. I have certainly never heard any one say so. 

Soc. And if virtue could have been taught, would his father 
Themistocles have sought to train him in these minor 

accomplishments, and allowed him who, as you must remember, was his 
own son, to be no better than his neighbours in those qualities in 
which he himself excelled? 

Any. Indeed, indeed, I think not. 

Soc. Here was a teacher of virtue whom you admit to be among the 
best men of the past. Let us take another, -Aristides, the son of 
Lysimachus: would you not acknowledge that he was a good man? 

Any. To be sure I should. 

Soc. And did not he train his son Lysimachus better than any other 
Athenian in all that could be done for him by the help of masters? But 
what has been the result? Is he a bit better than any other mortal? He 
is an acquaintance of yours, and you see what he is like. There is 
Pericles, again, magnificent in his wisdom; and he, as you are 
aware, had two sons, Paralus and Xanthippus . 

Any. I know. 

Soc. And you know, also, that he taught them to be unrivalled 
horsemen, and had them trained in music and gymnastics and all sorts 
of arts-in these respects they were on a level with the best-and had 
he no wish to make good men of them? Nay, he must have wished it. 
But virtue, as I suspect, could not be taught. And that you may not 
suppose the incompetent teachers to be only the meaner sort of 
Athenians and few in number, remember again that Thucydides had two 
sons, Melesias and Stephanus, whom, besides giving them a good 
education in other things, he trained in wrestling, and they were 
the best wrestlers in Athens: one of them he committed to the care 
of Xanthias, and the other of Eudorus, who had the reputation of being 
the most celebrated wrestlers of that day. Do you remember them? 

Any. I have heard of them. 

Soc. Now, can there be a doubt that Thucydides, whose children 
were taught things for which he had to spend money, would have 
taught them to be good men, which would have cost him nothing, if 
virtue could have been taught? Will you reply that he was a mean 
man, and had not many friends among the Athenians and allies? Nay, but 
he was of a great family, and a man of influence at Athens and in 
all Hellas, and, if virtue could have been taught, he would have found 
out some Athenian or foreigner who would have made good men of his 
sons, if he could not himself spare the time from cares of state. Once 
more, I suspect, friend Anytus, that virtue is not a thing which can 
be taught? 

Any. Socrates, I think that you are too ready to speak evil of 
men: and, if you will take my advice, I would recommend you to be 
careful. Perhaps there is no city in which it is not easier to do 
men harm than to do them good, and this is certainly the case at 
Athens, as I believe that you know. 

Soc. Meno, think that Anytus is in a rage. And he may well be in a 
rage, for he thinks, in the first place, that I am defaming these 
gentlemen; and in the second place, he is of opinion that he is one of 
them himself. But some day he will know what is the meaning of 
defamation, and if he ever does, he will forgive me. Meanwhile I 
will return to you, Meno; for I suppose that there are gentlemen in 
your region too? 

Men. Certainly there are. 

Soc. And are they willing to teach the young? and do they profess to 
be teachers? and do they agree that virtue is taught? 

Men. No indeed, Socrates, they are anything but agreed; you may hear 
them saying at one time that virtue can be taught, and then again 
the reverse. 



Soc. Can we call those teachers who do not acknowledge the 
possibility of their own vocation? 

Men. I think not, Socrates. 

Soc. And what do you think of these Sophists, who are the only 
professors? Do they seem to you to be teachers of virtue? 

Men. I often wonder, Socrates, that Gorgias is never heard promising 
to teach virtue: and when he hears others promising he only laughs 
at them; but he thinks that men should be taught to speak. 

Soc. Then do you not think that the Sophists are teachers? 

Men. I cannot tell you, Socrates; like the rest of the world, I am 
in doubt, and sometimes I think that they are teachers and sometimes 
not . 

Soc. And are you aware that not you only and other politicians 
have doubts whether virtue can be taught or not, but that Theognis the 
poet says the very same thing? 

Men. Where does he say so? 

Soc. In these elegiac verses: 

Eat and drink and sit with the mighty, and make yourself agreeable 
to them; for from the good you will learn what is good, but if you mix 
with the bad you will lose the intelligence which you already have. 

Do you observe that here he seems to imply that virtue can be taught? 
Men. Clearly. 
Soc. But in some other verses he shifts about and says: 

If understanding could be created and put into a man, then they [who 
were able to perform this feat] would have obtained great rewards. 

And again :- 

Never would a bad son have sprung from a good sire, for he would 
have heard the voice of instruction; but not by teaching will you ever 
make a bad man into a good one. 

And this, as you may remark, is a contradiction of the other. 

Men. Clearly. 

Soc. And is there anything else of which the professors are affirmed 
not only not to be teachers of others, but to be ignorant 
themselves, and bad at the knowledge of that which they are professing 
to teach? or is there anything about which even the acknowledged 
"gentlemen" are sometimes saying that "this thing can be taught, " 
and sometimes the opposite? Can you say that they are teachers in 
any true sense whose ideas are in such confusion? 

Men. I should say, certainly not. 

Soc. But if neither the Sophists nor the gentlemen are teachers, 
clearly there can be no other teachers? 

Men. No. 

Soc. And if there are no teachers, neither are there disciples? 

Men. Agreed. 

Soc. And we have admitted that a thing cannot be taught of which 
there are neither teachers nor disciples? 

Men . We have . 

Soc. And there are no teachers of virtue to be found anywhere? 

Men. There are not. 

Soc. And if there are no teachers, neither are there scholars? 

Men. That, I think, is true. 

Soc. Then virtue cannot be taught? 

Men. Not if we are right in our view. But I cannot believe, 
Socrates, that there are no good men: And if there are, how did they 
come into existence? 

Soc. I am afraid, Meno, that you and I are not good for much, and 
that Gorgias has been as poor an educator of you as Prodicus has 
been of me. Certainly we shall have to look to ourselves, and try to 



find some one who will help in some way or other to improve us. This I 
say, because I observe that in the previous discussion none of us 
remarked that right and good action is possible to man under other 
guidance than that of knowledge (episteme) ; -and indeed if this be 
denied, there is no seeing how there can be any good men at all. 

Men. How do you mean, Socrates? 

Soc. I mean that good men are necessarily useful or profitable. Were 
we not right in admitting this? It must be so. 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And in supposing that they will be useful only if they are true 
guides to us of action-there we were also right? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. But when we said that a man cannot be a good guide unless he 
have knowledge (phrhonesis) , this we were wrong. 

Men. What do you mean by the word "right"? 

Soc. I will explain. If a man knew the way to Larisa, or anywhere 
else, and went to the place and led others thither, would he not be 
a right and good guide? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. And a person who had a right opinion about the way, but had 
never been and did not know, might be a good guide also, might he not? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. And while he has true opinion about that which the other knows, 
he will be just as good a guide if he thinks the truth, as he who 
knows the truth? 

Men. Exactly. 

Soc. Then true opinion is as good a guide to correct action as 
knowledge; and that was the point which we omitted in our 
speculation about the nature of virtue, when we said that knowledge 
only is the guide of right action; whereas there is also right 
opinion . 

Men. True. 

Soc. Then right opinion is not less useful than knowledge? 

Men. The difference, Socrates, is only that he who has knowledge 
will always be right; but he who has right opinion will sometimes be 
right, and sometimes not. 

Soc. What do you mean? Can he be wrong who has right opinion, so 
long as he has right opinion? 

Men. I admit the cogency of your argument, and therefore, 
Socrates, I wonder that knowledge should be preferred to right 
opinion-or why they should ever differ. 

Soc. And shall I explain this wonder to you? 

Men. Do tell me. 

Soc. You would not wonder if you had ever observed the images of 
Daedalus; but perhaps you have not got them in your country? 

Men. What have they to do with the question? 

Soc. Because they require to be fastened in order to keep them, 
and if they are not fastened they will play truant and run away. 

Men. Well, what of that? 

Soc. I mean to say that they are not very valuable possessions if 
they are at liberty, for they will walk off like runaway slaves; but 
when fastened, they are of great value, for they are really 
beautiful works of art. Now this is an illustration of the nature of 
true opinions: while they abide with us they are beautiful and 
fruitful, but they run away out of the human soul, and do not remain 
long, and therefore they are not of much value until they are fastened 
by the tie of the cause; and this fastening of them, friend Meno, is 
recollection, as you and I have agreed to call it. But when they are 
bound, in the first place, they have the nature of knowledge; and, 
in the second place, they are abiding. And this is why knowledge is 
more honourable and excellent than true opinion, because fastened by a 
chain . 

Men. What you are saying, Socrates, seems to be very like the truth. 

Soc. I too speak rather in ignorance; I only conjecture. And yet 



that knowledge differs from true opinion is no matter of conjecture 
with me. There are not many things which I profess to know, but this 
is most certainly one of them. 

Men. Yes, Socrates; and you are quite right in saying so. 

Soc. And am I not also right in saying that true opinion leading the 
way perfects action quite as well as knowledge? 

Men. There again, Socrates, I think you are right. 

Soc. Then right opinion is not a whit inferior to knowledge, or less 
useful in action; nor is the man who has right opinion inferior to him 
who has knowledge? 

Men. True. 

Soc. And surely the good man has been acknowledged by us to be 
useful? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. Seeing then that men become good and useful to states, not only 
because they have knowledge, but because they have right opinion, 
and that neither knowledge nor right opinion is given to man by nature 
or acquired by him- (do you imagine either of them to be given by 
nature? 

Men. Not I.) 

Soc. Then if they are not given by nature, neither are the good by 
nature good? 

Men. Certainly not. 

Soc. And nature being excluded, then came the question whether 
virtue is acquired by teaching? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. If virtue was wisdom [or knowledge], then, as we thought, it 
was taught? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And if it was taught it was wisdom? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. And if there were teachers, it might be taught; and if there 
were no teachers, not? 

Men. True. 

Soc. But surely we acknowledged that there were no teachers of 
virtue? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. Then we acknowledged that it was not taught, and was not 
wisdom? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. And yet we admitted that it was a good? 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And the right guide is useful and good? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. And the only right guides are knowledge and true 
opinion-these are the guides of man; for things which happen by chance 
are not under the guidance of man: but the guides of man are true 
opinion and knowledge. 

Men. I think so too. 

Soc. But if virtue is not taught, neither is virtue knowledge. 

Men. Clearly not. 

Soc. Then of two good and useful things, one, which is knowledge, 
has been set aside, and cannot be supposed to be our guide in 
political life. 

Men. I think not. 

Soc. And therefore not by any wisdom, and not because they were 
wise, did Themistocles and those others of whom Anytus spoke govern 
states. This was the reason why they were unable to make others like 
themselves-because their virtue was not grounded on knowledge. 

Men. That is probably true, Socrates. 

Soc. But if not by knowledge, the only alternative which remains 
is that statesmen must have guided states by right opinion, which is 
in politics what divination is in religion; for diviners and also 
prophets say many things truly, but they know not what they say. 



Men. So I believe. 

Soc. And may we not, Meno, truly call those men "divine" who, having 
no understanding, yet succeed in many a grand deed and word? 

Men. Certainly. 

Soc. Then we shall also be right in calling divine those whom we 
were just now speaking of as diviners and prophets, including the 
whole tribe of poets. Yes, and statesmen above all may be said to be 
divine and illumined, being inspired and possessed of God, in which 
condition they say many grand things, not knowing what they say. 

Men. Yes. 

Soc. And the women too, Meno, call good men divine-do they not? 
and the Spartans, when they praise a good man, say "that he is a 
divine man . " 

Men. And I think, Socrates, that they are right; although very 
likely our friend Anytus may take offence at the word. 

Soc. I da not care; as for Anytus, there will be another opportunity 
of talking with him. To sum up our enquiry-the result seems to be, 
if we are at all right in our view, that virtue is neither natural nor 
acquired, but an instinct given by God to the virtuous. Nor is the 
instinct accompanied by reason, unless there may be supposed to be 
among statesmen some one who is capable of educating statesmen. And if 
there be such an one, he may be said to be among the living what Homer 
says that Tiresias was among the dead, "he alone has understanding; 
but the rest are flitting shades"; and he and his virtue in like 
manner will be a reality among shadows. 

Men. That is excellent, Socrates. 

Soc. Then, Meno, the conclusion is that virtue comes to the virtuous 
by the gift of God. But we shall never know the certain truth until, 
before asking how virtue is given, we enquire into the actual nature 
of virtue. I fear that I must go away, but do you, now that you are 
persuaded yourself, persuade our friend Anytus. And do not let him 
be so exasperated; if you can conciliate him, you will have done 
good service to the Athenian people. 



-THE END-